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Willie Kennard, The First Black Lawman in Colorado

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
October 12, 2022 3:01 am

Willie Kennard, The First Black Lawman in Colorado

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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October 12, 2022 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, murder and mayhem ran unchecked in the town of Yankee Hill....things were a mess, and they needed a real life good guy to save them.  Thankfully, Willie Kennard was that man. 

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What up?

It's Dramos. You may know me from the recap on LATV. Now I've got my own podcast, Life as a Gringo, coming to you every Tuesday and Thursday.

We'll be talking real and unapologetic about all things life, Latin culture and everything in between from someone who's never quite fit in. Listen to Life as a Gringo on the iHeartRadio app or wherever you get your podcasts. Brought to you by State Farm. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there. Geico asks, how would you love a chance to save some money on insurance?

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Say what to watch into your Xfinity voice remote. And we return to our American stories and up next, a story about the first black lawman in Colorado, Willie Kenner. Here to tell the story is our regular contributor, Richard Muniz.

Take it away, Rich. The man on horseback paused about a mile from the town. Like so many old west communities, the town was made of logs, roughly sawn boards and nailed together with dreams. He studied the community for a moment before urging the horse towards it. He didn't look like much. He was just a ranging middle-aged cowhand like so many cowhands across the west. But if you studied him, you'd notice things about him. He wore his guns low. This was the sign of a man accustomed to fighting for his life. People looked at him in shock as he came into town.

Now this was a novelty. Some wondered what he was doing here. After all, there were very few of his kind around.

Maybe he was lost. But the miners in the town of Yankee Hill, Colorado were certain of one thing. This man was trouble. Why else would a black man be right into their town?

The deal was 1874. The mining town was called Yankee Hill, Colorado. It was high in the mountains and it happened to be the personal playground of a man named Barney Casewit. Now Barney had bullied and terrorized the town for over two years. He had killed men, killed a marshal or two, scared off a few more and raped a 15-year-old girl named Bertie Campbell. When Bertie's father confronted him, Casewit gunned him down and left him dead in the street. A town marshal, a man named Craig, tried to arrest him. Casewit laid him out right next to Bertie's father. Ben Reed from nearby Ruby Hill replaced Craig. He didn't do any better.

The next marshal left town after seeing Casewit kill two saddle tramps. Like the giant goliath in the Bible, men feared him. No one could match him. No one challenged him.

This was his and no one and nothing would take it away from him. What this particular goliath hadn't counted on was that David's have an annoying tendency to just show up. In his case, David had just ridden into town. Matt Borden owned the Square Deal General Store. He was also the mayor of Yankee Hill and he and a couple of city councilmen were discussing town business and Fat Sarah Palmer's cafe over coffee when the black cowboy walked in. He went straight over to them and said, my name is Willie Kennard. I read your town is looking for a marshal.

I'd like to apply for the job. Borden would say years later that he wasn't impressed. One of the councilmen looked up at Kennard and asked, you can read boy?

But if the comment irritated Willie, he didn't show it. Borden decided to have some fun with the applicant. He said the hiring process was pretty steep. We have to make sure you can handle the job.

Oh, and what is that? There's a man in the bar across the street. He's already killed several men to include two former marshals. Arrest him and the job is yours. They handed him the marshal badge, fairly sure they'd be getting it back soon.

With a nod, the newly minted marshal started walking across the street. Now, if he's been expected Willie to run or just to die, it's grossly underestimated him. Willie was a battle hardened warrior. He'd fought as a corporal at the seventh Illinois rifle company. He had also served as a ninth Calvary, an entirely black unit that was at Fort Bliss, Texas and later moved out to Fort Davis, Arizona. There he fought against the Apaches. Being a corporal made him a leader of men. His time in the units soon convinced others he knew his way around a firearm. He became an instructor at the Montrose training camp.

But when the war was over, and like so many others, Willie looked around and found very few opportunities for a man of his talents. So he drifted to Denver. And one day he reads about this town that needs a marshal. Now with minutes behind the badge, he walked into the saloon and he sees Casewood. He spent a minute studying him, knowing how he also wore his pistols low.

And he studied the man's two associates. Soon he approached the table and informs Casewood that he's under arrest. Well, Casewood and his friends thought that was probably the funniest thing they'd ever heard. I'm supposed to just come with you, Casewood asked.

Where are we going? It's your choice, Willie answered. You can go to jail or you can go to hell. Well, now Casewood was in a pickle. And he had exactly two choices. Surrender or add to his list of killings. Option one didn't appeal to him.

Option two was easy. He stood and tend to add to his list and started reaching for his pistols. What happened next is debated. Some say before he even touched the guns, Willie had drawn and fired twice. They said the bullets struck the pistols, nearly ripping them from the gun belt and rendered both weapons useless. Others say that Willie drew and clubbed Casewood hard across the side of the head with the drawn pistol.

Unlike the Glocks and weapons favored today, the OS pistol was American heavy metal at its very best. While historians feel what happened to Casewood, no one just disputes what happened to his Casewood's buddies. Both tried to draw on the new marshal and before they even got halfway out, he had taken them both out with a bullet between the eyes. Casewood went to jail. Justice was very swift back then. Casewood was tried for the rape of the Campbell girl, the murders of the marshals and the townspeople, and he was taken to the edge of town to a pine tree and hung.

Stories have it that he wrapped his legs around the tree in an effort to keep from dying, but all that did was prolong his agonies. It was a fitting end for this brutal man and the town of Yankee Hill had a new marshal. Willie was paid $100 a month, which is a little bit shy of $2,300 in today's money.

Now, he did get tested again. There was a robber named Billy McGeorge. He was an escapee from the Colorado Territorial Prison. He formed a gang around himself and they played on the freight wagons and the stages around the Gold Trail. The town council asked Marshal Kenner to track him down. Well, Kenner realized this wasn't such a great idea. Colorado is huge.

Colorado is rugged. He could chase these guys all over the territory until doomsday and still never catch them. I'm going to make them come to me, he said. Soon, wanted posters started showing up on treason posts. The marshal had put a bounty on McGeorge's head of a measly $50. Now, this ticked McGeorge off quite a bit. Every other marshal around was asking at least $300, but $50?

That almost wasn't worth walking across the street for. So, what he decided to do was go into Yankee Hill, him and his gang, and they were going to explain the facts of life to this black man who had insulted himself. Well, they got to Yankee Hill and Marshal Kenner was waiting for them. He was armed with a double barrel shotgun.

You men can just drop your weapons, Kenner ordered, loving the shotgun at them. One of them, an outlaw named Cash Downing, tried to pull on Willie. Willie blew him off the horse with a blast from the shotgun. The blast also killed the outlaw right next to Downing and blew the window out of the general store. With one barrel still loaded and aimed right at him, McGeorge told his men to surrender. But as Kenner took them to jail, they breathed out threats of vengeance.

They never got the chance. They soon found themselves dangling from the same tree that Casewood had died on a few months before. By 1877, Yankee Hill was a quiet town, but it was also a dying town. The gold in the area had ran out and people were just moving on. Willie looked around and realized the place was going to be a ghost town soon. He handed in his badge and said, I'm going out East.

I'm going to find myself a wife. Then Willie vanished from history forever. Where he went, when he died, and where he's buried, there are unknowns. For the time being, and like so many old West heroes, Willie Kenner rode into history, leaving an elastin legacy as Colorado's first black lawman. And a special thanks to Monty for doing the production on that piece and to Richard Muniz for his terrific storytelling. And by the way, this was a real life bad guy terrorizing a town and needed a real life tough good guy to save them.

And he did. And my goodness, the stories of towns, we've told a few and we'll be telling a lot more. Send them to our American stories.com. We'll listen to it in hundreds of affiliates all over this great country. And we love hearing your stories. Send them heroes in your town, whether it's cops first responders, or well heroic stories going way back to the early days in your town.

Willie Kennard, Colorado's first black lawman, here on Our American Story. With CheapCaribbean.com, you can get more food, more drinks and more fun for less money on your all inclusive beach vacation like bottomless margaritas. Yes. And going snorkeling whenever I want. Yes. And moonlight dance parties. Yes. And loaded fajita nachos.

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What up, it's Dramos. You may know me from the recap on LA TV. Now I've got my own podcast, Life as a Gringo coming to you every Tuesday and Thursday. We'll be talking real and unapologetic about all things life, Latin culture and everything in between from someone who's never quite fit in.

Listen to Life as a Gringo on the iHeartRadio app or wherever you get your podcasts. Brought to you by State Farm. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there. After the last two years of being at home a lot, no one wants to spend the day inside doing laundry. That's why all free clear mega packs are bigger with twice the cleaning ingredients compared to a regular pack. To give you a confident clean, all free clear mega packs are 100% free of dyes and perfumes and they're gentle on skin even while they're tough on stains. Conquer the laundry and get on with your day. Purchase all free clear mega packs today.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-11 21:49:45 / 2022-12-11 21:54:57 / 5

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